Effects of Climate Change on Mental Health
Climate change plays a crucial role in our everyday life as much as eating our meals does. The impacts of it go much deeper with our actions than we think they do in our daily lives. Let’s start with what we consume in a day. Microplastics are getting smaller and smaller in size. They are breaking down into such tiny parts, that they are now present in our blood. There is a certain amount of discomfort present when this sentence is read. A classic example of the discomfort prevailing which is associated with our mental states is how when a post about it on social media goes viral and the collective reactions to the same are just distress.
Let’s go back to the roots of the different kinds of intersections between climate change and human life. The earth’s health is impacted and so is ours. What we are forgetting is how we are fragments of the planet built differently. Anything that affects the earth, affects us. Let’s go back to the start of 2022.
January 2022 was Earth's sixth-warmest January since global record-keeping began in 1880, 0.89 degrees Celsius (1.60°F) above the 20th-century average, NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information, (NCEI), reported on February 14.
The above is a statement that shows the hottest record in 143 years. The above examples show what Anthropocene means. “The Anthropocene is a new, present-day epoch, in which scientists say we have significantly altered the Earth through human activity. These changes include global warming, habitat loss, changes in the chemical composition of the atmosphere, oceans, and soil, and animal extinctions.”
Along with Anthropocene, We are living in an era of cognitive dissonance regarding climate change, where climate change and human activity just don’t align.
Gender and Climate Change
Extreme weather events such as droughts and floods have a greater impact on the poor and most vulnerable – 80% of the people climate change displaces are women. Although Climate change is affecting every living thing, these statistics show how there are still largely untapped resources. Restricted land rights, lack of access to financial resources, training, and technology, and limited access to political decision-making spheres often prevent them from playing a full role in tackling climate change and other environmental challenges. When we view climate change through all intersections, it shows us how climate justice is needed for everyone, even though a few particular sections of society are much more affected by the same (Note 80% of Women; include Trans Women).
Over recent times, I have come across conversations that are in either social events or gatherings, and women are now in this phase where they are holding themselves back from even thinking of the next generation. The common phrase is, “But do I want to give birth in an era with climate change, that’s scary.” Irrespective of these gender roles, from big decisions to small decisions, it’s quite sad for us and a key aspect to notice how climate change has affected us and all our future anxieties.
How does climate change affect health?
Climate change is bestowing catastrophe not only on the planet's health but also on human health. Our physical and mental well-being are affected by the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events around us, the unpredictability, the radical, and the volatile nature. So, how do climatic changes influence human life?
There is a report by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, BBC Future and the Environmental Protection Agency, European Commission, and The Guardian which states the following on how there are certain aspects that are affecting the earth.
- Wildfire Pollution
- Heat Waves
Hotter and drier conditions increase the risk and longevity of wildfires. Fine particles from burning materials can be carried for thousands of miles in the air, posing risks to communities far away. This pollution causes 340,000 premature deaths globally each year. It is estimated that smoke from the 2019-2020 Australian fires affected 80% of Australia's population and resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands of people being admitted for a check.
The potential health impacts of drought vary because it can harm water access, air and water quality, sanitation, and food productivity. These factors can lead to an increase in disease if there's not enough water to wash hands or if dusty conditions ruin air quality. Climate change is increasing the frequency, intensity, and duration of droughts -in 2020, up to 19% of the Earth's land surface experienced drought in any given month. Droughts also create conditions perfect for wildfires, exacerbating their public health risk when flames erupt.
Exposure to extreme heat is especially dangerous for people over 65, those with existing health conditions, and people with less access to cooling systems and healthcare. Between 1998 and 2017, more than 166,000 people died due to heat, including more than 70,000 during the 2003 heatwave in Europe. The climate crisis is exposing new and vulnerable populations to higher average temperatures, creating long-lasting and deadly consequences. The emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are all contributing to rising temperatures continuously.
When we read the above para, the thought of managing all these expenses with what we want to sustain within par with our wants can induce further anxiety. This isn’t a clinically proven fact, but rather an observation of how people don’t want to switch to sustainable alternatives even though they are better for the planet because of the price points. It’s a loop we’re stuck in and that is a trigger or rather a factor that induces a sense of anxiety paired with demotivation. Climate change and mental health are intricately linked today, as we will read ahead.
Immediate effects of climate change
The Universal truths behind the climate crisis can be difficult to face each time we look up the news. Although we are collectively looking at the news, each one is perceiving the news differently about their circumstances. We look up to the news about the dangers and harms it’s bringing about on a macro and micro level. The urgency to combat this in our day-to-day life has brought about a lot of immediate changes to our mental states and our lifestyles.
This volatility has branched out to our mental states as “eco-anxiety.” Studies show that this concern is linked to the extremely uncertain situations we live in, about how powerless one can feel to not be a part of the solution.
Ecocide is a term that talks about nature’s destruction with human negligence. The word ecocide comes from the Greek Oikos (home) and the Latin (to kill). Ecocide is literally “killing our home”. How can this be legal? That’s a thinker. When you think about this sentence there’s the same discomfort mentioned when you hear me talk about plastic.
Along with ecocide, what we are gradually realizing is how we are collectively feeling. It’s termed eco-grief. As much as everyone sees a world where climate change can be reversed drastically, the factual aspects of just prolonging it have affected mental states widely.
“When people find out eco-grief is a thing that has been studied, they are relieved.” -Ashlee Cunsolo, Climate Change researcher.
Eco-grief comes along with an unnerving eco-anxiety. Imagine you’re getting in a car and you’re heading to work and you can sense the heat, and with your routine and all the other tasks, the thought of the daunting climate change comes to your mind. This particular anxiety that kicks in is climate anxiety. Very often we don’t realize the ways this is creeping into our daily lives until it becomes a domino effect.
However, as people are experiencing this collective grief, there are studies by Doctors of Happy Climate that suggest that when we take small steps in experiencing a different lifestyle and sustainable options, although the process might be challenging and overwhelming, it helps us appreciate the smaller parts of adopting a sustainable lifestyle in the grand scheme of things. It then becomes important to understand the effects of climate change on humans to truly understand the changes we need to make in how we live.